The Age of Desire
It’s the winter of 1907. Edith Wharton, already famous for her fiction, attends Comtesse Rosa’s glamorous Paris salon, as she has for months. Unlike other times, she’s suddenly ill at ease; a stranger stares at her from across the room, as if daring her to dismiss him. This is her fateful meeting with handsome young journalist Morton Fullerton, and the opening scene of Jennie Fields’ fresh and insightful new novel The Age of Desire. Trapped in a sexless marriage—“Edith was raised to be a lady, not a woman,” writes Fields—the esteemed author will become drawn into an illicit affair that will alter not only her married life but a close personal relationship that has developed over the years with Anna Bahlmann, her former governess and, now, literary secretary and companion.
The story is brilliantly told through dual perspectives—shifting smoothly back and forth between Edith’s complex (and often naïve and confused) striving toward a satisfying romantic relationship, and Anna’s seemingly justified concern for the woman she’s helped raise and still cherishes. Along the way, we enjoy glimpses of Paris’s glittering Belle Époque, Wharton’s lovely home and gardens in Massachusetts, and travel to visit Henry James at his English mansion. Sadly, as Edith’s marriage disintegrates, and her husband increasingly shows signs of mental illness, a compassionate Anna desperately tries to warn her friend of Morton’s possible betrayal. This is a heartbreaking, exquisitely told story. Fields’ imagining of the passions, desperation and divided loyalties of her subjects is mesmerizing. Highly recommended.
352 (US), 368 (UK)